stress & thoughts on rhythm

I have been using the beginning calm of my morning to read and think before I sit down and blog a bit. I have noticed that I am more stressed than usual lately. My blood pressure has intermittently been trending higher this summer. I wonder if the fact that I am getting older also means my body is more sensitive to stress. I hope not.

Amazon seems to occasionally make some kind books free for a short period of time. Stress proof your life: 50 brilliant ideas for taking control by Elisabeth Wilson was one of these. I downloaded it free and browsed through it.

Apparently it’s no longer free. Wilson talks about many different sensible strategies for lowering stress in one’s life. Most of what I have read is not new to me but it helps to be reminded to take time to think and reflect each day.

“As a rough rule, every waking hour should have five minutes of pleasure.” Elisabeth Wilson

I quite like that. I know that I get lots of pleasure in my life. I see my self as very lucky to have the companionship of my wife and my passion for music.

But I still stress out. Usually it involves other people. Especially when these people rattle around in my head after an encounter. Which leads me often to think of myself as having an introverted streak, that I do not usually draw energy from contact with others (this excepts Eileen). Rather I am drained. The more deeply I care about others, the more stressed I can be when I watch them go through tough patches.

Wilson is clear to point out the value of stress and its place in our lives:

“We’re designed to get stressed.  It’s how we deal with it that’s the problem…. Coping with stress should be simple. My central message to you can be summarized in one sentence. Get stressed—relax.”

Elisabeth Wilson

I recommend her book for tips on this subject.

A final quote:

“[G]ood health is not just an absence of disease but the ‘presence of emotional and physical well being.” Elisabeth Wilson

This is a bit different than I sometimes think of good health. Worth pondering.

So before sitting down to blog this morning I sipped coffee and finished Badura-Skoda’s chapter 2  “Studies in Rhythm” in his book, Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard.

As a musician I often think about rhythm and tempo. I love music that is rhythmically alive. I think this is part of my attraction to dance.  I also think about tempo quite  a bit. Steady tempo is an important part of accompanying congregational singing. Ensembles of musicians however make beautiful music when they allow tempo to breath.

Of course this entails an equality of respect and listening that is not always present in ensemble playing.

I spend lots of time using my metronome. But at the same time I realize that mechanical adherence to it does not produce music, only improved ability to play steadily or discover which sections one is unintentionally distorting. This is probably my biggest concern.

My piano trio is a great workshop for me to think about tempo and rhythm. The other two players are fine musicians. String players often have a highly developed sense of rubato and rhythm and these two are no exception. It is instructive to play with them and then discuss what was happening to the tempo as we played.

A slight increase in tempo is something we allow as an ensemble sometimes sense the music we are making is a team effort between players equally concerned with making music together as well as performing well individually.

Toward the end of his chapter on rhythm, Badura-Skoda made a couple of comments that stood out to me.

“Anyone who has listened to a half-speed tape recording of evenly played fast runs has made the sobering discovery that what sounded even at a fast tempo sounded quite uneven and uncontrolled, indeed amateurish, when played slowly.” Paul Badura-Skoda

This resonated to me because years ago I heard an inadvertent recording of myself playing drums. In it, I could hear variations in the tempo that I was unaware of. This was indeed a sobering experience for me. I like to think that I learned to think more consciously about tempo by hearing myself play badly on a recording.

Then Badura-Skoda makes this observation on ensemble playing:

“Are we not reminded of a symphony orchestra when a flock of birds, as though informed by one will, moves along steadily in a straight line, draws irregular figures in the air, or lands and flies away simultaneously?”

I find the image of groups of birds flying in ensemble very inspiring and though provoking.


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